The £113,200 funding from Heart Research UK will allow Dr Georgina Ellison and her team of researchers to investigate the effects of new cancer drugs, tyrosine kinase inhibitors (Trk-I's). Although the drugs are effective for treating certain types of cancer, several have been shown to have toxic effects on the heart but the cause of these problems is not known.
The King's researchers suspect that the drugs are either killing or damaging the cardiac stem cells, preventing their normal ability to support heart tissue function. Stem cells are master cells capable of multiplying and developing into new mature cells, replacing cells which have been lost or damaged. They can also help the recovery of injured cells. In the heart this is essential, as heart muscle cells are crucially important and cannot replace themselves.
The project will study the effects of three Trk-I cancer drugs on cardiac stem cells, grown in the lab, to see how the stem cells are affected at a cellular level, as well as studying changes to cell signals, proteins and gene activity.
The research may pave the way for the development of new treatments which prevent toxic effects of Trk-I cancer drugs on the heart, particularly as the findings may identify the specific cell type concerned, the effects of Trk-I drugs on these cells and the mechanisms involved.
The research will also shed further light on the biology of cardiac stem cells, which may help scientists to find ways of manipulating biochemical pathways to increase the abilities of the cardiac stem cells to repair cells and tissue, which may lead to better treatments for heart failure.
The two-year research project will provide crucial insights into how these cancer drugs affect cardiac stem cells, which may lead to treatment to prevent their toxic effects on the heart.
Leading the research, Dr Georgina Ellison said: "I am absolutely delighted that Heart Research UK has chosen to support our research. This support will enable us to look closely into the effects of Trk-I cancer drugs and how they can affect cardiac stem cells. It may lead to new treatments to prevent toxic side-effects of the cancer drugs, which is good news for cancer patients."
Barbara Harpham, National Director of Heart Research UK, said: "This project at King's College London is exciting because it will not only provide knowledge about the biology of stem cells but could also help to develop new ways of treating heart failure to give patients a better quality of life.